Thursday, February 5, 2015

'Street Rats' - Part One

Hey there fellow digressors. Sorry I've been so absent lately -- among other things, copy-editing business has picked up a bit, so I've been busy with that. I had a day off today, though, so I spent it mostly sitting around and browsing Facebook and Pinterest. I saw some other people dealing with prompts and such, and decided to check out my huge board of prompts on Pinterest. I picked one, posted it to a writers' group on Facebook, and followed it myself. A couple of my friends urged me to write more and put it on the blog, or even to write more short stories and do the same with them. 

Well, it just so happens that I'd already considered this idea. And I've decided to give it a go. 

But here's the rub: I have way too many stories dancing about together inside my head. Most take place in the world of Sehret, and most are backstory pieces about my main characters or their families. And I am such an indecisive person that I can't decide which one to use. SO. Here's what I want to do -- over the next couple of days, I'll post the opening scenes for a few of these short stories, and give each a (very temporary) name so you can keep track of them. Then, in a few days (I'll have to figure out how many stories I'm dealing with before I know exactly when), I'll write a summary post with shortened versions of the scenes, and ask y'all to vote on which one most interests you. Whichever story has the most votes will be the one I continue (or try to continue) and post exclusively here on the blog. Let me clarify: These scenes are not in any actual book that I'm writing at the moment. They may become their own novellas or be sorted into an anthology of short stories at a later date, but right now, the only way to read them will be by coming here. Think of it as a serial novella which you get to read as it's written, and on which you can give feedback if you so desire (but please, be kind). 

Another idea I've considered is designating a certain day of the week to check the 'Writing Prompts' widget in the sidebar and follow whatever prompt it gives me, and invite y'all to join in if you want. Thoughts? How many of you would be interested in something like that? 

Anyways, now that I've gotten that intro out of the way, let me introduce you to the first (not fully edited) scene of the first short story... 
Street Rats
(Temporary Title)
Prequel to 'The Sehret Chronicles: The Merchant's Son'
Lans, Reshan-Shamindo Border -- Reshan Territory
All he had to do was take it. The bread sat on the edge of the table, fresh and wafting its yeasty scent towards Tal, making his stomach grumble again. He wouldn't have felt it over the moths fluttering in there, had it not sent such a sharp stab of pain throughout his ribcage. His hands trembled from hunger and fear. How would he ever make them steady enough to steal for his brother's dinner? 
The baker turned away to deal with a customer, and Tal's heart quickened. He tensed, glanced around to be sure no-one was watching, then... 
"You don't want to do that." 
Tal gasped and spun to press his back against the wall between him and the baker's stand. His pulse pounded in his head, and his stomach churned. 
A boy of about his age with straggly black hair and keen blue eyes crouched next to him and grinned. "New to this, are you?" 
"Keep quiet," Tal hissed. His hands shook, so he curled them into fists. "This is risky enough as it is." 
"It's risky because you don't know what you're doing. Me, on the other hand? I could get that bread in less than the amount of time you've spent shaking behind this wall." 
Darr's voice rang through Tal's head. "Quit shaking and get the job done. There'll be time enough to think things through later." 
He swallowed, glanced over his shoulder, then fixed his gaze on the newcomer again. "...Who are you?" 
"Name's Ryst. This is my territory." 
"It's Reshan territory, stupid." 
Ryst snickered, making Tal flinch. "So do you want that bread, or not?" 
Tal worked his jaw. "I've stolen before." 
"Sure, sure you have." Ryst crept to the edge of the wall and peered around it. "All right. The customer is leaving." 
Tal found himself creeping up behind Ryst and trying to peek around him. His heart leapt to his throat again, and he pulled back. "Do we go now?" 
"Back," Ryst hissed, and shoved Tal back far enough to retreat himself. 
Tal barely caught himself before he could fall. Frustration rose within him, and he glared at Ryst. "Why did you distract me? I could have made it." 
Ryst sighed heavily and rolled his eyes. "If you're counting on customers to distract him, then you never go during the first sale of the day. He won't let his guard down long enough to let you in until he feels safe looking away that long." 
"I don't have all day. I just need enough time to run in and grab the bread." 
Ryst snorted. "And then he'll spot you and call the guards. You might think you're fast, but you won't get away if you try something like that." 
Tal tried, but he couldn't think of a proper response. He looked away and tried to keep a neutral expression. His eyes stung, and he blinked hard to get any stray flecks of dust out of them. 
He felt eyes on him, and when he looked again, Ryst was watching him. "What's your name, anyhow? I haven't seen you around here." 
Tal swallowed hard, then cleared his throat and tried to sound as grown-up as possible. "Talsyn Lethar. I... didn't used to come here often." 
"Talsyn Lethar?" Ryst wrinkled his nose. "Too long. How's 'Tal' sound?" 
Tal shrugged. "It works." He was actually used to having his name shortened that way, but he felt no need to point it out to a thief he would probably never speak with again. 
"Fine then, Tal. How old are you?" 
"Why?" Tal glared at him again. "I don't even know your full name. Why do I have to give you my whole life story?" 
Ryst rolled his eyes again. "Fine, then. Don't tell me your age." He inched forward on the balls of his feet, then glanced at Tal. "If I snag that bread, I get a share, right?" 
"What kind of share?" 
"One third." 
"Half, or you can grab it yourself." 
"I have a brother to feed, dimwit." Tal tried to make the words sound hard and clipped, but his voice trembled, betraying hi desperation. Could he really get the bread on his own? Ryst was right -- he had no idea what he was doing. He'd only stolen twice, and both time were under Darr's supervision. Both times, Darr had stressed to him how this was not a permanent solution, only a quick fix until they could get on their feet again. 
But Darr wasn't here, was he? Not that he had really been there in life, either. 
It took him a moment of staring to realize that Ryst had vanished from his perch by the wall. 
Tal blinked and scrambled to his feet. Where had the rat gone? Stolen the bread, no doubt, and run off with every bit of it. Well, maybe that was fair, but it wouldn't help Tal fill any stomachs tonight. He glanced nervously about and fought the panic rising in his chest. He had to think. If Ryst's assessment was accurate, an attempt at theft now would more likely earn him a trip to jail than a meal. He couldn't afford that. He also couldn't afford to sit here all day coming up with plans if he wasn't going to follow through on them. 
He groaned and paced away from the edge, ran a hand through his greasy black hair. This whole trip had been a bad idea. It had been hard enough saddling up the old hag's gelding and getting it here. And leaving his brother on that hill outside of town, without supervision? While safer than leaving him at the house, it was still a monumental show of idiocy. He had to get out of here now. He had to grab Siran and-- 
"Hey, Tal-boy." 
Tal started and fumbled at his tattered belt for the sharpened stick that he'd hung there. He jabbed it out ad he whirled around to face the speaker. 
Ryst laughed and tossed a fresh, piping hot loaf of bread from his right hand to his left. "Still working yourself up, I see. Here." And with that, he flung the loaf into the air in Tal's general direction. 
Tal dropped the stick and caught the loaf in mid-flight. He turned it over in his hands, ignoring the way it burned his skin. The smell wafting from it made his knees weak. Upon closer examination, he saw that the loaf was whole. He frowned. 
"Good enough?" 
He looked up to see that Ryst was still watching him. Tal lifted the loaf as if putting it on display. "What about your share?" 
Ryst shrugged. "Break it off if you like. I'll eat something. Unlike you, I'm used to stealing for myself." 
The words stung, but Tal could barely hold back a grin as he stuffed the load into his bag. He had to get back to Siran. They had to get back to the house before the old hag got sober enough to realize that they'd gone. 
"Hey, shaker." 
The words made Tal stop and face Ryst again. His face flamed as he remembered that he hadn't acknowledged the efforts made to get the food now bulging in his pack. "...Thanks." 
"Actually, I was just going to say that my name is Rystar Teln." Ryst shrugged. "Just in case you were still wondering." 
Tal swallowed hard again and nodded. "...Teln. I'll remember." 
"I'd rather you didn't, actually. The name's Rystar." And here Ryst stepped forward and extended his hand. "Think you can remember that much, Lethar?" 
Tal hesitated a long moment, then took Ryst's hand and slapped his palm. He nodded. "Sure. And just call me Tal." 
Ryst returned the slap and grinned faintly. "I guess I probably won't be calling you anything, if you're not sticking around. You really going to feed yourself and that brother of yours with one load of bread?" 
"We've made do with less." Tal stepped backwards and lowered his hand. "I have to go. he's waiting." 
Ryst nodded. "Power to you, Tal. And lots of it." 
Power. Now there was an elusive commodity. Tal shrugged. "Sure." He turned again to leave, then hesitated. "Hey, Ryst--" 
But when he turned again, Ryst was gone, vanished as if he had never been there in the first place. 
Tal looked down at his satchel, then at the ground where Ryst had stood. After a long moment of thought, he turned and sprinted off in the direction of the hill where he'd left his brother. 
When he got there, clouds had just begun to roll in over his head, and the air was pregnant with telltale moisture. Tal shuddered and quickened his step. He spotted the patch of grass where he'd made Siran sit not an hour earlier. 
Nothing. The grass was bare. 
His heart leapt to his throat again. "Siran?" His voice came out hoarse, and he nearly tripped in his haste to get up the hill. He reached the patch of grass in question and patter it as if to be sure that no-one sat there. His eyes had not deceived him. Panic swelled in his chest, stole his breath from him. He whirled around and panted for breath. "S-siran? Siran, where did you go?" 
Could he have wandered into the city? Had Tal passed him in his hurry to get there? What if one of the merchants had nabbed him, declared him a Shamindo street rat and locked him up somewhere? What if-- 
Tal nearly cried out from relief when Siran sprinted over the crest of the hill towards him. Tal stumbled up to meet him, grabbed hold of his arm, and dropped to his knees before his little brother. "Siran, I told you not to wander off like that!" 
Siran's green eyes grew wide, and he tried to jerk his arm away from Tal. 
A bit of remorse left a lump in Tal's throat, and he released Siran's arm. "I'm sorry. I was just... I just didn't..." His words trailed off, and he winced, then touched Siran's arm more carefully. "Look, Siran, you know I wouldn't hurt you, right? Not ever." 
It took a long moment, but Siran nodded and wrapped his arms around Tal's neck. 
Tal blinked hard and returned the hug, then took a deep breath. It was time to be the big brother here. No more motherish panic attacks. He reached for his satchel and pulled the flap open. "I got something in the market for us." He reached into the bag and pulled the loaf into view. 
Siran's grin was instantaneous. "You got food?" 
Tal relaxed again and managed to return Siran's grin. "Yeah. I had a little help, but we won't go hungry tonight. Here..." He broke off a piece and offered it to Siran. "Chew it slowly. This will have to last us until I can get some more." 
If his brother heard his warning, he showed few signs of it. Siran stuffed the morsel into his mouth all at once, and seemed to have no intention of chewing it. 
Tal laughed. "Eacy there. Don't choke yourself." 
Siran coughed and ducked his head a little, then made a more obvious effort to chew his food. All the same, it was barely five seconds before he swallowed. 
Fair enough. Tal broke off a piece of the bread or himself and took a bite of it. The succulent, yeasty taste almost made him cry out with pleasure. He could see why Siran's self-control had gone out the window. But this had to last. He finished his piece and stuffed the rest of the loaf back into the satchel. "We'll have the rest at the house." 
Siran's face fell. "But she'll take it." 
"No, she won't. I'll hide it so that she won't ever find it." Tal offered a hand to Siran. "Trust me?" 
A pair of wide eyes met his, then Siran nodded, smiled sheepishly, and slid his grimy hand into Tal's. 
Tal squeezed his hand and led the way back down the hill. Siran's feet slipped enough times that, by the time they reached the bottom of the hill and approached the animal they'd ridden into the city, Tal had hoisted his brother onto his back and had a pair of arms wrapped tightly about his neck. It was all he could do to hold them far enough out to avoid choking. He helped Siran mount and began to fasten their satchel to the saddle. Something bumped his rear, and he swatted without looking. "Settle down, horse." 
The black gelding, Taryk, nickered and nipped again. Siran giggled. Tal grimaced and ignored the animal until he had the bag secure. Taryk bumped him with his nose, and Tal sighed and rubbed it. "You're a real chore, aren't you?" 
This must have been enough, for a moment later, Taryk bobbed his head and began to graze again.
"Oh, no, you don't. You'll eat at home just like us." Tal swung into the saddle and helped Siran center himself on the saddle. "Ready?" 
"Can we make him gallop today?" 
If this nag galloped, he'd fall apart halfway home. "We'll see. Just hang tight, all right? We'll be home soon." 
Siran nodded and took hold of the saddle horn. Taryk seemed none too pleased, but ceased his grazing, and when Tal picked up the reins and kicked, the animal tossed his head slightly and began the eternal ride towards home. 
Copyright (c) 2015 by C. F. Barrows


  1. *cue EXCITMENT!* I would be all for doing the writing prompt thing :D

    and love the story!...The feels though! :P

  2. Haha, yes, you're doing it! I really enjoyed reading this. TALSYN. Yes please.

    1. And I tagged you for the Creative Blogger Award:

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.